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U.N. Secretary-general Kofi Annan Discusses Darfur and Iran’s Nuclear Threat

May 4, 2006 at 6:05 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary-general, welcome.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. Secretary-general: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: Does it appear now there is going to be a deal on Darfur?

KOFI ANNAN: They are close, but they are not there yet, and lots of effort is going into it in Abuja. You have the mediator, Salim Ahmed Salim, who is working very hard with the support of President Obasanjo of Nigeria and the head of the African Union, President Sasson Nguesso of Congo, and they are bringing about five or six African leaders to pile on the pressure.

And, of course, President Bush also has sent Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick to the place, and I have my own representative from Sudan on the ground, in addition to the British minister of economic development, Hilary Benn, so you have quite a lot of high-powered people really trying to nurture and steer this into a closure, and I hope we do get a solution.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have the feeling that both sides, meaning the Sudan government and the rebels of Darfur, want this thing resolved now?

KOFI ANNAN: That is what they say, but we have to test it. We have to really press them to do it.

The lead negotiator for Sudan has gone back to Khartoum, because they indicated they were ready to sign the agreement as put forward by the mediator; the rebels were not ready to sign.

And people have been working with the rebels, and I hope, when the Sudanese mediator, Ali Taha goes back, with the help of all of these presidents and all of this on the ground, that they will be able to steer them in the right direction and get them to sign, because that’s the only viable solution.

But it has to be a serious agreement, an agreement that will stand the test of time and make a difference on the ground, not something patched up that doesn’t hold…

JIM LEHRER: Is your understanding of the agreement that, if it in fact is signed, and if it in fact is real, it will stop the killing, stop the displacements?

KOFI ANNAN: Not immediately. It will help, but it will take some time. You know, with these things, by the time you get the order down to the men on the ground fighting and get it down all the way to the lowest level, it does take a bit of time.

And so it will help, but we have to be prepared for some dislocation. And not only that, we need to strengthen the African Union forces on the ground to help with the implementation and to help provide better security for the displaced persons and the refugees.

Abuja agreement key in Darfur

Kofi Annan
U.N. Secretary-general
But the question is: Why hasn't anything been done? Let me say that, first of all, it is a complex issue, but it's also a question of... the will of the member states to move. It's a complication that the Sudanese have introduced by resisting help.

JIM LEHRER: Is that the number-one priority? Is safety number one?

KOFI ANNAN: Yes, I think we have four key priorities: The first is the Abuja agreement, if we can get it in the next 24 hours. Then, we have to focus on providing security for the refugees on the ground. And here, since the African Union troops are on the ones on the ground, they are the ones we need to strengthen immediately...

JIM LEHRER: Because there's not enough of them, right? They can't do the job?

KOFI ANNAN: They can't do the job. They've made a difference in some areas where they are effective, but we need to strengthen them; we need to give them logistical support; we need to give them financial support to continue the operation, until such time that we are able to transition to a U.N. force, and that does take a while.

JIM LEHRER: But you're on board, as far as the need for a U.N. force to replace the African Union force?

KOFI ANNAN: Absolutely, the Security Council is on board. The African Union itself took a decision in principle, but we've had difficulty with the Sudanese authorities who have not been cooperative on this issue. Actually, they have maintained that they will be prepared to engage after the peace agreement, just as we did with the north-south agreement. We sat with them and...

JIM LEHRER: The north-south agreement, another part of the Sudan.

KOFI ANNAN: Another part of Sudan.


KOFI ANNAN: And so, if the agreement were to come through, I would expect them to live up to that obligation and begin to talk seriously about the international force coming in.

JIM LEHRER: And the international force has been organized and is ready to go in?

KOFI ANNAN: Well, planning is done, which is so quite different from ready to go.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Sure.

KOFI ANNAN: We need now to tend to, one, the Security Council takes a firm decision and gives us a clear mandate. We then have to approach the governments to offer troops, and that is where...

JIM LEHRER: You mean the government of Sudan?

KOFI ANNAN: No, the U.N. member states.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, the U.N. member states. I see, the people who would actually supply the troops, right.

KOFI ANNAN: Supply the troops.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

KOFI ANNAN: Since we don't have a standing army, we are in the hands of our member states, yours, and mine, and the others...


KOFI ANNAN: ... as to how much they are prepared to help and how quickly they are prepared to move. And depending on their responses, it can take anywhere between three to four months or longer to put the UN troops on the ground.

JIM LEHRER: But Sudan has agreed to allow a U.N. force in there?

KOFI ANNAN: Not yet.

JIM LEHRER: That's part of this deal, right?

KOFI ANNAN: ... not yet, I think.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary General, a lot of people are asking -- this has been going on for three years. Over 200,000 people have died; 2 million have been displaced. And it's right all in public view. This has been well-known and reported all over the world. Why has it taken so long to stop this?

KOFI ANNAN: That is a very good question; that's a painful part. I mean, you can imagine my anguish as a human being and as an African, an African secretary general, to see us going through this after what we went through in Rwanda. It's very painful and difficult to take.

But the question is: Why hasn't anything been done? Let me say that, first of all, it is a complex issue, but it's also a question of will, the will of the member states to move.

It's a complication that the Sudanese have introduced by resisting help. If the Sudanese had been able to protect their own people and prevent what is going on in Darfur, we would not even be talking about deployment of U.N. troops.

Having failed to do so, I think they have an obligation to accept help from the international community to help with their protection. And the international community has an obligation.

You may recall that, at the last summit in September, the member states pledged solemnly, individually and collectively, to take responsibility for the protection of people in such situations, arguing that it is a responsibility of each member state to protect this population.

But where they fail, or are unable to do so, or they themselves are the perpetrators, the international community, through the Council, has to take action, and, if need be, by force. And now we have to redeem that pledge, that solemn pledge of September.

A built-in delay in U.N. operations

Jim Lehrer and Kofi Annan

JIM LEHRER: Would it be correct to say that this whole episode, as you just described it, is an indication of where the weaknesses of the United Nations are, their inability to move quickly and stop something like this?

KOFI ANNAN: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we are an organization of 191 member states. You need to get the decisions taken. And since we don't have an army, we need to run around getting support and help from governments.

I have often described the way we operate and run this peacekeeping operation -- it would be a bit like telling the fire department in Washington, D.C., that, "We know you need a fire department, but we'll get you one and build you one when the fire breaks," because it's when the fire breaks that we start putting together the army, we start collecting the money to create an army that will go in.

And so there is the built-in delay in the way we operate. And this is why where member states deem that it is extremely urgent to move quickly, they've tended to put together a coalition of the willing, a multinational force, outside the U.N. so that they can move quickly. And in these situations, rapidity of deployment is a very important issue.

JIM LEHRER: Are you satisfied that you, personally -- as you said, not only as a human being, an African, you're the secretary general of the United Nations -- that you personally did everything you possibly could to get this thing moving before now?

KOFI ANNAN: I have been very active on this, not only in my public pronouncements, but also in my contacts with governments. I've written to almost every African state asking them to work with us, with Sudan, to allow the U.N. forces to come in.

I've reached out to the Arab League and to presidents like Mubarak to seek their help in getting this. And I've been working very closely with the African Union to support their efforts on the ground.

And you may recall, last May, we organized the first-ever pledge and donor conference to raise money and logistical support for them, and we are planning a second follow up one to assist them, but what is important is that governments respond and respond promptly and generously. And as we speak, we are very strapped for cash for humanitarian activities.

JIM LEHRER: I read that only 20 percent of the pledges have been met?

KOFI ANNAN: Twenty percent has been met. And we don't sound credible. We are outsiders who are putting pressure on the Sudanese, we are telling the Sudanese, "Protect these people. Let's come and in help them," and we can't come up with the money to feed them. And we have had to reduce rations by 50 percent.

And I hope the response will begin to come in and we can do whatever we can to help the population. And, on top of that, we are seeing a very serious deteriorating situation on the Chadian side.

JIM LEHRER: Chad on the -- lot of the refugees. There are 200,000 refugees in Chad, is that's right?

KOFI ANNAN: In Chad, and you have a very volatile border, with insecurity growing on both sides of the border, and these poor, innocent, helpless people caught in the middle. So we have a tough job to do there.

Moves to Curb Iran Nuclear Program

Kofi Annan
U.N. Secretary-general
I think it is right to press the Iranians to suspend the enrichment and activities in this area, but we also have to put something on the table.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.

New subject: Iran. Is the U.N. Security Council going to adopt a tough resolution about that?

KOFI ANNAN: They have a resolution on the table which was drafted by the United Kingdom and the French ambassadors. They need to get the other members of the Council onboard, particularly all of the permanent members.

The resolution will demand that Iran suspends all its enrichment and reprocessing activities and honor the obligations and the demands of the atomic agency. And if it did not...

JIM LEHRER: Your atomic agency, the U.N. atomic agency?



KOFI ANNAN: And if it did not do that, they will need to take certain steps, further steps, without defining the further steps. And, of course, if they did it, then they assure further steps would be moot and unnecessary.

JIM LEHRER: How serious a situation do you believe it is if -- it would be if Iran did, in fact, acquire either the capability or the reality of a nuclear weapon?

KOFI ANNAN: Yes. I think that -- let me say that the Iranians, in my judgment, hyped up their achievement quite considerably, because what they have achieved is very, very beginning. It's almost laboratory stuff, but they have blown it up for the sake of their own population.

Obviously, what everyone is concerned is that they do not go for a nuclear weapon. And that's why I have been urging the Iranians that, indeed, if their intention is peaceful, to demonstrate to the world, in a very transparent and confident way, that, "Our intention is only peaceful, and we have no intention, and our doors are open. Send in all of the inspectors. We will honor the optional protocol and be transparent."

My sense is that we need to intensify diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue, but, in doing that, I think we need to approach it comprehensively, in my judgment. I think it is right to press the Iranians to suspend the enrichment and activities in this area, but we also have to put something on the table.

I think we have to give them -- offer technology, maybe some security assurance, and I think it is also...

JIM LEHRER: Security assurance, meaning that nobody -- the United States or Israel -- nobody's going to go in there and blow them up?

KOFI ANNAN: Blow them up, absolutely.


KOFI ANNAN: And I think it would also be good if the U.S. were to be at the table with the Europeans, the Iranians, the Russians, to try and work this out.

JIM LEHRER: I was going to ask you about that. There has been a suggestion that the United States get directly involved in the talks with Iran. You think that would be a good idea?

KOFI ANNAN: I think it would be a good idea, because the Iranians give you the impression that they are negotiating ad referendum and that, whatever they discuss with the Europeans had to be checked with the U.S. and come back. And, of course, when you are in that sort of a mood, given their own culture, you probably don't put everything on the table.


KOFI ANNAN: And I think if everybody -- all of the stakeholders and the key players -- were around the table, I think it would be possible to work out a package that would satisfy the concerns of everybody.

JIM LEHRER: Based on your experience that you went through that led to military action in Iraq, do you believe that can be avoided in the case of Iran, in other words, knowing all you know, all of the people you have talked to who are concerned and involved in this, that this thing can be resolved short of violence?

KOFI ANNAN: I hope so. I think it would be a real tragedy if we were to resort to violence in this situation.

We shouldn't forget the environment in which we are operating. When you look at the situation in the Middle East today, it is very fragile, and it's all linked. You cannot look at Iraq in isolation, or Iran, or our discussions with Syria and Lebanon, or the discussions going on in Palestine.

They are linkages between these issues, and one has to be careful how we tackle each one of them, to make sure that it doesn't have a domino effect and exacerbate all of the other situations. And I believe that we should do whatever we can, and the international community should stand together, to get Iran to comply with the atomic agency requirements.

Iran has insisted that, as their intention is peaceful, they will insist on all of their rights, but, of course, they must also honor all of their obligations. But the first thing is for them to build confidence, demonstrate transparently that they have nothing to hide and it's peaceful. And I think we should...

JIM LEHRER: Do you believe, based on what you're saying, I take it you believe that Iran would go along with this, if it's approached right, if it's handled right diplomatically?

KOFI ANNAN: I think they can find themselves in a very difficult situation, having told the whole world, their region, and given assurances that they do not want a nuclear weapon, and then they are offered a package which allows for development of -- which allows for peaceful use of nuclear energy, but prevents them from...

JIM LEHRER: From further.

KOFI ANNAN: ... going any further. And if that is the case, and they resist that, how do they explain it to the world?

The U.S. relationship with the U.N.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Secretary General, how would you describe your relationship between you, the United Nations, on the one side, and the U.S. government right now?

KOFI ANNAN: That's an interesting question, but there are so many parts of the U.S. Government

JIM LEHRER: I know. I know. Well, let's go...

KOFI ANNAN: I think with the administration, let me say...

JIM LEHRER: OK, administration.

KOFI ANNAN: Yes, let's say with the administration, we have quite a good relationship. I have good relations with the president and secretary of state. We work well together.

We have some friends on the Hill, and we have others who are not so friendly and constantly knock the U.N. It makes our dealing with Washington difficult.

I often say that it's not only Washington that does have a congressional parliament; the other 190 member states have parliaments, too. And you could imagine if they were all to play that way how impossible my life would be, even though...


KOFI ANNAN: ... with 191, but I think, with the administration, it is going well.

JIM LEHRER: How about your relationship with John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the UN?

KOFI ANNAN: Well, in fact, we were in a meeting this morning discussing Darfur. John is settled in. He is beginning to work. He is working well with his colleagues.

Obviously, one, they don't always see eye to eye on all issues, but he is engaged, and working with them, and has been active in this reform process, and defended his positions very actively; so have other groups. And, in some cases, we have made progress, and they have made agreement, and we have moved forward. In other situations, we've been stalemated.

JIM LEHRER: He had a reputation for being an enemy of the U.N. going in. Has he lived up or down to that?

KOFI ANNAN: I think mixed, because some of the comments he makes, you know, gives the impression that here's someone who may not be too friendly to the U.N. But other times, he indicates that he's there to work with the other member states, to improve and strengthen the U.N., and that is what we would want to see.

I think I would love to see ambassadors become so engaged in strengthening the U.N. and making the multinational effort successful, but they need to work together to make that happen.

JIM LEHRER: All right, Mr. Secretary General, thank you very much.

KOFI ANNAN: Thank you very much, Jim.